Getting your baby to sleep well at night can be challenging enough without factoring feedings into the mix. But what about when your baby’s feeding schedule is the root cause of the constant nighttime wakings? What about when your baby feeds constantly at night and not much during the day – how are you supposed to solve THAT problem?
Never fear – we can help. Read on for details!
Reverse Cycling: What It Is, and Why Some Babies Do It
Speaking of ‘baby breastfeeds constantly at night and not much during the day’ – there’s a term for that. It’s called reverse cycling. Pretty simple, right? Well, the “why” behind why some babies reverse cycle is a little more varied. Babies may reverse cycle for the following reasons:
How Reverse Cycling Affects Your Baby’s Sleep
Obviously, if your baby is breastfeeding every hour or two at night, then she’s not doing much sleeping…and neither are you! Now, some babies are pretty efficient “reverse cyclers” – they will wake often to eat, but they’ll generally nurse and then go right back to sleep. This is especially true for babies who know how to self-soothe and fall asleep independently – these babies generally don’t have strong sleep associations with nursing, and so will sleep well between feedings.
However, other babies are fairly awake between feedings and spend far more of their nighttime hours awake and alert. This is especially true for babies who are napping too much during the day, in addition to not nursing frequently. It is also true for newborns who are struggling with day/night confusion and who sleep much of the day.
Reverse Cycling Isn’t All Bad – How Reverse Cycling Can Actually Benefit Working Moms
Now, obviously, many of us find reverse cycling absolutely exhausting and are looking for ways to correct it (more on that in the next section). But there are situations in which reverse cycling actually works in your favor, and makes a lot of sense to continue.
Specifically, we have found that for moms who are working full-time outside the home and who are pumping benefit from reverse cycling – it helps to keep their milk supplies up, and allows for that special, cuddly bonding time with baby that those moms miss during the day. Moms in this situation often tell us that they make up for lost sleep by going to bed fairly early, and napping on the weekends.
Miriam Chickering, a Baby Sleep Site® sleep consultant who also has a background in lactation consulting, summarizes the pros and cons of reverse cycling this way:
“Reverse cycling is great for moms who enjoy sharing a room or bed and aren’t disturbed by night feeding. Some moms can sleep through most of a feed and report feeling more rested when sharing a bed and reverse cycling. Other moms don’t sleep well at all when bed-sharing, and for moms who get out of bed for every feeding, well – reverse cycling can be brutal!”
How To “Reverse” Reverse Cycling And Reclaim Your Nighttime Sleep
While it’s true that some parents can really benefit from reverse cycling, and may prefer to keep it going for a period of time, we know most of you likely see reverse cycling as a problem and are looking for ways to solve it. Not to worry – we can help with that and help you night wean! Check out our suggestions below for coping with and gently solving your baby’s reverse cycling:
“When reverse cycling is related to a baby being distracted we want to encourage the baby to take more calories during the day. Many babies will feed very well about 15-20 minutes prior to a nap. Mom can try wearing a nursing necklace and talking/playing with her baby during the feeding. Another option is to nurse in a dark room using white noise and providing some rhythmic motion like rocking.”
It’s also a good idea to remember that things in your environment may be distracting your baby – like the noise of the TV, or the noise of other family members – so do your best to eliminate any known distractions during feeding time.
If you’re separated from your baby for large chunks of time during the day, due to work (or something else), Miriam has these tips to share:
“For babies who reverse cycle due to separation from mom during the day, it’s important for child care providers to provide frequent feeding opportunities. You may be able to cluster feed in the afternoon and offer 2-3 feedings during the night with one 5 hour sleep stretch for both mom and baby. Then you can offer a feeding or two before work, depending on when you need to leave for the day. With my youngest son, I often would wake him for a feeding before I headed out the door at 5 am. It can take a week or two to find the option that works best for you and your baby, and you may have to try a few different things before finding the right balance of night feeding and daytime feeding, but it’s important to keep trying.”
As for actual bottle-feeding technique – this Kellymom article offers great tips on how to offer a breastfed baby a bottle in a way that simulates breastfeeding and helps you avoid some of the complications of bottle feeding.
Personalized Solutions To Gently End Reverse Cycling – Yeah, We’ve Got Those!
Truth be told, reverse cycling can be tough to “reverse” if your baby is doing it out of a strong nursing association. That’s because you have the double difficulty of trying to sleep coach (and that’s tough enough by itself), plus you have to make sure you’re not compromising your breastfeeding relationship with your little one. Tricky indeed! Tough situations like these are best handled with the help of a sleep consultant. Your sleep consultant will craft a Personalized Sleep Plan® that not only lays out sleep coaching recommendations and a step-by-step plan that are breastfeeding-friendly.
Once you select your package, you’ll immediately receive an email with your Helpdesk login credentials. From there, you can set up your account, complete a profile of each child in your family, outline your sleep issues as well as any particulars about breastfeeding, and send them straight to your consultant. Within a few days, you’ll receive your Personalized Sleep Plan™, and will work closely with your consultant to implement it.
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For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night.
If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 45 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style.
For those persistent toddler sleep struggles, check out The 5 Step System to Help Your Toddler Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your toddler sleep through the night and enjoy a better daytime schedule.